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FWC Fishing Violations

Florida is often referred to as the “Fishing Capital of the World,” thanks to its 7,700 lakes, 10,550 miles of rivers, and 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline – all teeming with a wide diversity of aquatic wildlife. It’s the No. 1 destination for angling tourism in the U.S., according to 

That said, you can’t simply cast a line or pitch a lure anywhere for anything at any time. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has stringent regulations for both saltwater fishing and freshwater fishing, with varying rules for recreational and commercial fishers. 

Regulations set guidelines for fishing licenses and permits, seasonal windows for certain species, rules about fishing methods and limits on how many fish of certain species you are allowed to take from the water. It can get tricky because these rules are subject to change with each season, as the health and well-being of local environments and species can fluctuate. 

Anglers must also be mindful of federal fishing regulations. For instance, NOAA Fisheries enforces federal fishing rules off the South Atlantic coast of Florida. In other parts of the state, other federal agencies, such as the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, may be assigned enforcement authority.

If you are cited or arrested for FWC violations in Broward County, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers are experienced in formulating effective legal strategies to mitigate the potential fallout. 

FWC Saltwater Fishing Regulations in Florida

Florida saltwater fishing regulations, part of which are outlined in F.S. 379.2411, start with proper licensing/permits. Both residents and visitors to Florida are required to have a Florida saltwater fishing license if you cast a line or catch/release or take/attempt to take any native or non-native marine organisms from the water.

Exemptions for saltwater fishing licenses in Florida are outlined in F.S. 379.353, and include (but aren’t limited to) youths under 16, certain U.S. Armed Forces members, residents over 65, residents fishing in their own county of residence with natural/live bait using poles or lines fishing line retrievals, and people fishing in saltwater with a licensed vessel/operator (charter fishing). 

Residents fishing without a license can be fined $50-$100. Non-residents can be fined $100-$250 for the same offense. 

Additional saltwater fishing regulations in the Gulf and Atlantic impose limits on certain species, sizes, seasons, gear, and areas. 

Exact numbers may be subject to change season-by-season, so it’s important to verify the latest data on Just as an example, though, one recent seasonal chart set some of the following limits: 

  • Red Snapper: Year-round season in the Atlantic with a minimum size limit of 20 inches. Daily recreational bag limit in the Atlantic is 2 per harvester. 
  • Black Grouper: Closed season in the Atlantic from Jan. 1st to April 30th, with a minimum size limit of 24 inches and a bag limit of 1 per harvester (and only 1 fish can be gag or black). 
  • King Mackerel: Year-round season, minimum 24-inches fork length with a maximum daily recreational bag limit of 2 per harvester. 
  • Tarpon: Recreational bag limit statewide is 1 per harvester per year with a $50 harvest tag required; vessel limit of one fish. Tarpon over 40 inches must remain in the water during release. Spearing and snatch hooking is prohibited. 
  • Stone crab: Minimum size limit of 2 ⅞-inch claws, with a closed season May 2nd to Oct. 14th, with daily recreational bag limit of 1 gallon claws per harvester or 2 gallon per vessel (whichever is less) and 5 traps maximum. Harvesting of egg-bearing stone crabs is not allowed. 

There is also a list of “unregulated species” such as lionfish and hardhead catfish that generally aren’t restricted with respect to bag limits, gear restrictions, or closed seasons – but the state does still limit recreational harvesting of these species to 100 pounds or 2 fish (whichever is greater). Anymore than that, and you are considered to have a commercial quantity, for which you need special licenses and permits. 

Additionally, you cannot at all fish certain protected species, such as goliath grouper, several types of sharks, starfish, scallops, sturgeon and more. 

Rules about specific gear and fishing methods are also unique to certain areas – not only Gulf and Atlantic waters, but some county-specific.

Florida Freshwater Fishing Violations

Licensing and method requirements for freshwater fishing in Florida follow the type of fish you are fishing for – regardless of where you’re fishing. In Broward, the top freshwater fishing locations are the Urban Canals and Everglades Canals, both of which are considered sites with unique fishing opportunities/high catch rates for bass and panfish.

With a few exceptions, both Florida residents and non-residents are required to obtain a state license for freshwater fishing. 

Anyone fishing in freshwater for gamefish must use a pole and line or rod-and-reel. Examples of game fish include (but aren’t limited to) black bass, crappie, bluegill, warmouth, redbreast sunfish, spotted sunfish, flier, shadow bass, white bass, striped bass and sunshine bass. There is no limit on the number of rods and angler can use, but they can’t be taken by any free-floating, unattached device or with firearms, explosives, electricity, speargun, poison or other chemicals. 

It’s illegal to possess a freshwater fish along with gear that can’t be legally used to take them. (There is an exception for lawful possession of firearms pursuant to F.S. 790.053(3)). 

Nongame fish have fewer rules, but there are still restrictions on the tools and timing for catching them, as well as using them for bait. Some species, like alligator, gar, are illegal to possess without a permit. Same goes for some species of sturgeon, which are protected at both the state and federal level. 

There are also prohibitions and restrictions on certain species of frogs, mussels, crayfish, turtles and more. (Alligator hunting also requires special trapping licensing.)

Bag limits depend on the type of fish, as well as where they are caught. 

Fishing Violation Penalties

Florida’s fishing regulations are extensive, differ by area, and are constantly subject to change. It’s no wonder so many run afoul of them, even when they’re trying to do the right thing. However, as our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers can explain, ignorance is not an adequate defense in FWC violation cases. 

FWC fishing violations are broken down by levels, Level One, Two, Three and Four, with Four being the most serious. 

Most first-time recreational fishing violations in Broward County are Level One violations, punished primarily by fines. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to take it seriously. Keep in mind that if you simply pay the fine, you are admitting guilt – something that will stay on your permanent public record and enhance penalties for any future offenses. 

The current maximum fine schedule for FWC fishing violations is as follows: 

  • Over bag limit: $500/person
  • Undersized fish: $100/fish
  • Use of prohibited gear: $$500/person
  • Fishing during a closed season: $500/person
  • Fishing in a prohibited area: $500/person
  • Harvesting protected or endangered species: $2,500+

Note that these fines are subject to change, and the FWC has the discretion/authority to impose higher fines in certain circumstances. 

Higher-level Florida fishing violations can result in criminal charges. These may be minor misdemeanors (30-90 days in jail, maximum), but they can easily get more serious depending on the type of offense and the prior record of the accused. Even a first-time offender accused of tampering with stone crabs or or wounding an endangered species will be automatically facing a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. 

No matter the evidence against you, there is almost always a way for an experienced Fort Lauderdale defense attorney to minimize the adverse impact. 

If you have been cited or arrested in Broward County for an FWC violation, call The Ansara Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011. 

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